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by E.J. Peiker on Tue Mar 18, 2008 2:09 pm
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Several months ago I promised a sharpness test of the various 400mm options in the Canon lineup. My efforts were delayed some as I wanted to be sure my 100-400 lens was operating optimally. After allowing Canon Irvine to fully optimize the sharpness of my 100-400 I was finally able to do the test. All tests were done on a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II at f/5.6, f/8, and f/11.

The candidates are the EF400 f/4DO, EF400 f/5.6L, EF100-400 f/4.5-5.6L, EF300f/2.8L + 1.4x, EF 70-200 f/2.8L + 2x.

Unfortunately I did not have a 400/f.2.8L lens at my disposal which I suspect would win the test.

I used the popular money test. A clean $5.00 bill was flattened and taped to a white background which was in turn taped to cardboard and then taped to a wall. This insures flatness. A tripod was set up 15 feet from the subject. Everything was perfectly squared up and level. All images were taken at 1/60 sec with mirror lockup and bounced flash to eliminate any exposure variables - all shots received at least 93.75% of the light from the flash.

The results are not very surprising and my visual observations are 100% correlated with file size. The images that I found to be more detailed visually also had the largest CR2 and JPEG file sizes. This is due to the fact that a more detailed file is less compressible than a less detailed file.

The conclusion:
At f/5.6, the EF400/5.6 is the clear winner, only the 400DO challenges it for supremacy presumably due to it being stopped down by one stop where all other candidates are wide open at f/5.6. A significant step down and nearly identical are the 100-400 and the 300/2.8+1.4x. The 70-200 with 2x is awful relative to the others losing almost all fine detail.

At f/8 the order is the same but the 300/2.8+1.4x is almost on parity with the 400/5.6 and the 400DO. The 100-400 is still significantly behind and the 70-200+2x has closed the gap to the 100-400.

At f/11 all lenses and lens TC combos should be performing as close to optimum as possible. The 400/5.6 is still the winner with the 400DO and 300+1.4x coming in tied for a close second. The 100-400 is significantly behind the top 3 but also significantly better than the 70-200+2x. It is also interesting that the 70-200 with 2x falls off at f/11 in image quality. The test was repeated three times with identical results so this is not an artifact of the testing but an actual condition.

Overall, this tests rules out, for me anyway, the 70-200 +2x as a viable option and confirms my previous experience with many different versions of the 100-400. The 100-400 is not up to the level of the 400 primes or even the 300/2.8+1.4x even on a finely tuned sample. Certainly I am not ruling out the possibility that there are 100-400 lenses out there that are better than the sample used here but it is most certainly not the norm and is likely rare. Analyzing the histograms also shows that the 400DO has slightly lower contrast than the 400/5.6.

Another observation also confirms my field experience. The 400/5.6 can be shot wide open with almost no fall-off in image quality.

The following are the 100% swatches all unsharpened and have only gone through an identical RAW conversion in ACR 4.4 and have been cropped. They are in order of their finish in the test:
Image

Image

Image

Image

Image


Last edited by E.J. Peiker on Tue Mar 18, 2008 5:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.
 

by Bob Ettinger on Tue Mar 18, 2008 2:33 pm
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EJ,

Quite a test and very interesting results. Thanks for the effort. I guess I can sell my 100-400.
Bob Ettinger
 

by Jim Zipp on Tue Mar 18, 2008 2:33 pm
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Great test E.J.
I'm not at all surprised at the top quality of the 400 f5.6. The one that does surprise me is the results from the 300 f2.8 and 1.4X.
 

by Paul Fusco on Tue Mar 18, 2008 3:00 pm
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Excellent test and info, EJ!
Well done.

- Paul
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by Patrick Cox on Tue Mar 18, 2008 3:42 pm
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Jim Zipp wrote:
Great test E.J.
I'm not at all surprised at the top quality of the 400 f5.6. The one that does surprise me is the results from the 300 f2.8 and 1.4X.


Me too. I always hear how great the 300 2.8 + 1.4x is and that it is better than the 400 DO. Your test doesn't appear to show this.

BTW, thanks EJ for this test! I know this took lots of time and patience. :)
 

by Cliff Beittel on Tue Mar 18, 2008 4:09 pm
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Jim Zipp wrote:
Great test E.J.
I'm not at all surprised at the top quality of the 400 f5.6. The one that does surprise me is the results from the 300 f2.8 and 1.4X.

Same here. Thanks for your effort.
 

by Philippe Collard on Tue Mar 18, 2008 4:27 pm
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Thanks a lot for your time E.J.!

I bet this thread is going to become a reference even for other forums :mrgreen:

I too am quite surprised by the 300mm f/2.8 as the common mantra is that it is a very sharp beast that is as sharp with the 1.4x than used bare...
 

by E.J. Peiker on Tue Mar 18, 2008 4:31 pm
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Patrick Cox wrote:
Me too. I always hear how great the 300 2.8 + 1.4x is and that it is better than the 400 DO. Your test doesn't appear to show this.


It is better than the 400DO for contrast and for bokeh - the latter of which I did not evaluate in this test. This is purely a sharpness test, there are many other things that could be considered. At a sea shore with OOF specular highlights coming off of wet rocks, the 300+1.4x would far outdistance the 400DO as it produces natural OOF highlights where the 400DO produces ugly little bagels.

Philippe Collard wrote:
I too am quite surprised by the 300mm f/2.8 as the common mantra is that it is a very sharp beast that is as sharp with the 1.4x than used bare...


That is physically impossible since you are adding a bunch more glass to the equation. Take a look at the 300/2.8+1.4x at f/11, there is virtually no difference.
 

by Cliff Beittel on Tue Mar 18, 2008 4:49 pm
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E.J. Peiker wrote:
Patrick Cox wrote:
Me too. I always hear how great the 300 2.8 + 1.4x is and that it is better than the 400 DO. Your test doesn't appear to show this.


It is better than the 400DO for contrast and for bokeh . . .

E.J.,

Is contrast meaningful in the digital age, given that one can always boost contrast in processing? Or is there some difference between the contrast produced by a lens and that supplied by Photoshop?
 

by E.J. Peiker on Tue Mar 18, 2008 5:04 pm
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Cliff Beittel wrote:
Is contrast meaningful in the digital age, given that one can always boost contrast in processing? Or is there some difference between the contrast produced by a lens and that supplied by Photoshop?

Arguably no if shooting RAW but for JPEG shooters it could still be a factor but bokeh certainly is ;)
 

by Ed Erkes on Tue Mar 18, 2008 5:09 pm
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Bob Ettinger wrote:
"Quite a test and very interesting results. Thanks for the effort. I guess I can sell my 100-400."

Bob, Before you decide to sell your 100-400, check out past winners of the Nature's Best and other magazine contest winners. You'll find that there are a lot of winnining images made with the 100-400. It is a very good lens and you have the advantage of zoom capability.

Ed Erkes
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by bjs on Tue Mar 18, 2008 5:44 pm
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I've found front/back focus issues have a large effect when doing this kind of testing. How did you remove that variable in this test?
 

by jxsq on Tue Mar 18, 2008 5:47 pm
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If you do these tests via live view MF, you will be surprised.

Or anyone else willing to give it a try?
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by akclimber on Tue Mar 18, 2008 6:06 pm
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Thanks EJ. I've been consisdering a used 400 f/5.6 and this may push me over the edge but dangit, I bet your report results in used prices for 400 f/5.6s going up! :)

Cheers!
Joe McCabe
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by Patrick Cox on Tue Mar 18, 2008 6:16 pm
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E.J. Peiker wrote:
Arguably no if shooting RAW but for JPEG shooters it could still be a factor but bokeh certainly is ;)


EJ
Don't even RAW adjustments add some level of noise?

Thx
Pat
 

by E.J. Peiker on Tue Mar 18, 2008 6:18 pm
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bjs wrote:
I've found front/back focus issues have a large effect when doing this kind of testing. How did you remove that variable in this test?

I test every lens combination for front/back focus - if there is an issue, the combo goes to Irvine for fine tuning. My 1Ds2 simply has none with any lens. There was no front/back focus in this situation.

Patrick Cox wrote:
Don't even RAW adjustments add some level of noise?

Not all adjustments do, only ones where you are increasing exposure on any or all chanels.
 

by amirm on Tue Mar 18, 2008 7:03 pm
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I have been meaning to also do a test. So thanks for beating me to it EJ. Last time I did this though, I found the AF mechanism to be totally inadequate for this kind of evaluation. The peak focus simply cannot be achieved to the degree required to test lenses that are close to each other. I used a focusing rail and moved the whole setup forward one millimeter at a time, while evaluating the results on my computer screen shot by shot. It took me all day to compare 3-4 lenses this way.

At times, I would have to move the camer by as much as 1-2 inches to get peak focus (distance to target was about 6-8 feet). Without this, some of the results would be exactly opposite!

Unfortunately, the work was so tedius and boring which I have not wanted to repeat. I do have a 1DsIII though and own all the lenses EJ used so if there is motivation for more testing, I could blow a day and test them.

Finally, on the point regarding contrast, yes you can boost the DO images in software. However, I find a big issue with this. After a day of shooting thousands of images, I go through them to sort and find the best. The DO images not only lack contrast but because of that, tend to also have less color saturation. This means that I pass on images which could look better otherwise. This is not a problem with non-DO lenses.
 

by GeneO on Tue Mar 18, 2008 7:22 pm
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Nice test EJ.

A couple of comments and a question. I have owned both the 100-400 and the 400/5.6Lprime. Your tests echo my experience. I now have only the prime.

I have seen tests with 100-400 as sharp as the prime wide open, and not. I think a lot of this has to do with sample variation in the zoom line. There also are other common issues with the 100-400, in particular IS issues with lock-ups and total failures. It is for all of these reasons I prefer the prime and don't reccomend the zoom, even though it is more flexible.

The question - what did you focus on, the number? Or are these "corner" shots?

Cheers
Gene
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by E.J. Peiker on Tue Mar 18, 2008 7:32 pm
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These are dead center shots. Focus is on the 5.
 

by fredcor on Tue Mar 18, 2008 7:37 pm
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Thanks EJ. A good test and useful info for me.
Frederick Lat Correa
 

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